Khao Yai National Park 
'A Unesco World Heritage Site'

The Khao Yai National Park which is primarily located in the Nakon Ratchasima province (i.e. also known as Khorat) in northeastern Thailand has gained a reputation as being Thailand's most prominent national park.  Apart from being Thailand's first national park (having been opened on 17 September 1962), it is also one of the more unique Thai national parks.  Khao Yai is of great significance because in 2005 it gained status as a Unesco World Heritage Site, due to the habitat which supports probably the highest concentration of wildlife of any sanctuary in Thailand.  Also, this national park is located only 175 kilometres from Bangkok. 

BACKGROUND

This national park which is best accessed via the small town of Pak Chong is said to be the third largest in all of Thailand covering an area of some 2,168 square kilometres and is predominantly vegetated with evergreen forests and open grasslands.  The national park which contains over 40 kilometres of footpaths is situated within the western region of the Sankamphaeng Mountain Range, with the majority of the mountains ranging in elevation between 400 metres to 1,000 metres above sea level.  Although, Khao Rom which is the highest mountain reaches an elevation of some 1,351 metres above sea level. 

During the 1930s and long before the establishment of Khao Yai as a national park, a number of families from the Ban Tha Chai and Ban Tha Dan groups lived within the Sankamphaeng mountains in what was known as Tambon Khao Yai; living off the land from small scale cultivation. 

However,  during this period the area became somewhat of a haven for criminals so the government are said to have relocated the small villages 30 kilometres from the original location.  Since then there has been an increasing amount of development at Khao Yai including the construction of hotels and condominiums, illegal logging and squatters each of which have had an impact upon this national park

Despite it's history, the main reason nature lovers and birdwatchers choose to visit this destination today is to view it's impressive animal, bird, reptile, insect and plant species; several being on the endangered list. 

FAUNA

In fact, this area is said to provide a haven to over 320 species of birds (which include the Grea Hornbill, Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo, the Red Junglefowl, the Long-tailed Broadbill, the Nightjar, the Red-headed Trogon, and the Slaty-backed Forktail to name several), along with 3,000 species of plants, and 66 species of mammals (which include Gibbons, Asian elephants, Asiatic black bears, pigs, Indian Sambar deer, and Indochinese tigers to name several).  There are over 200 species of reptiles and amphibians including Pythons, King Cobra's, turtles and lizards.

The national park is well set up to accommodate its visitors and includes a good selection of both hiking trails and camping sites (i.e. including the Orchid and Lam Takhong camps).  

For those that don't like camping, there are also a number of bungalows, guest houses and hotels located around Pak Chong and within the national park itself with prices starting at around 1,000 Thai baht per night.

ACTIVITIES

Hiking, elephant jungle rides, kayaking, camping, mountain bike riding, bird watching and photography are among the more popular activities that occur here.  As with most areas in northern Thailand, make sure you bring some warm clothing with you if you intend to stay overnight as night time temperatures have been known to drop to around zero degrees.

For those visitors wishing to explore the national park after dark, there are apparently jeep safaris that operate although I have not seen them for myself. There are the usual facilities at Khao Yai including toilets, restaurants, a visitor's centre and a souvenir shop.

Due to the geography of the Khao Yai National Park, it has a number of water catchments which drain into four river systems including the Takhong and Mekong Rivers. Other rivers including the Lam Ta Kong and Prachin Buri and the Muag Lek Stream meander their way through this fertile landscape helping to sustain the human, animal and bird life that reside here.

However, this national park is also known for other natural features including a labyrinth of caves that are said to house over 1 million bats, and a number of waterfalls including the Haew Suwat and Haew Narok Waterfall which is over 150 metres high.

GETTING THERE

There are train and bus services which stop at Pak Chong during their Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima route.  Transport is available from Pak Chong to the Khao Yai National Park entrance.

You can travel to Nakhon Ratchasima (i.e. Khorat) within northeastern Thailand by either train or bus. Trains depart daily from the Bangkok Hualamphong railway station at 9 PM and arrive in Khorat just after 2 AM. Likewise, buses leave Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (at Mo Chit on Kamphaengphet 2 Road) every 15 minutes between the hours of 5 AM and 10.15 PM and arrive at the Khorat bus station located on the Mitraparp Highway.

Admission to the Khao Yai National Park is 400 Thai baht for foreigners.

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